BAIA GALLERY has hosted an exhibition of Merab Abramishvili. Seeing his work is always a very exciting possibility. The intricate craftsmanship, astonishing colour palette, carefully planned compositions and the naïve looking subject matters never fail to capture the heart of the audience. Having a very distinct painting style, Abramishvili belongs to the alternative art scene of the 80s Georgia. This group is a very significantly interested in religion, often employing it as their subject matter- a kind of protest against the Soviet dismissal of religion and their forced recreation of the national identity.

Abramishvili’s themes are particularly fascinating when analysed in relation to the context of Georgia when he was painting. The country was engulfed in crisis of all sorts. The Soviet Union broke down causing unrest, civil war and Abkhazian conflict; the decade of darkness arrived, with no electricity, hunger and death. Surrounded by this, Abramishvili found an escape route in his mythological and biblical scenes, the heavenly animals and rocking maidens. Abramishvili’s canvases radiated hope against the total agony- hence his charm.

‘The art of 80s fetishizes the idea of escapism, of creating the ideal world and moving to there. There is a shared desire of opposing the prevalent deconstructionism with the universal values. The artists of 80s [Georgians] did not come protesting, but came with a position. Almost everywhere else in the post-Soviet countries, the protest against the environment was reactionary, aggressive, reflexive and poster-like, similar to the objective surroundings. However, in here the more critical the environment, the more stable, harmonious and balanced was the art world.’- writes Baia Tsikoridze, the owner of the Baia Gallery. Instead of focusing and almost copying the chaos around, these artists were evoking the values that would save the society. These were the illusions of beauty, serenity and stability, calmness, kindness and steadiness; Abramishvili’s canvases are infused with. Emphasis on aestheticism was the protest against the rundown, discouraged, destitute society. 

The painter has themes he often returns to; the exotic animals are quite attractive for the artist. Repainting the lions, tigers and leopards the painter saw the far lands of Africa as the only faint imitation of heaven; when little, he famously was saving the pocket money to travel to there.

Abramishvili was a student of Alexander Bandzeladze, a celebrated abstract painter; probably it was Bandzeladze who inspired Abramishvili to be so sensitive towards colour. Abramishvili’s palette is always a very distinctively intellectual; even the bright pinks are used in such combinations that crate a very darbaiseli harmony. The two-dimensionality of Abramishvili’s paintings are definitely an influence of his genius mentor.

Abramishvili’s painting technique is a very distinctive one. Working in tempera and watercolours, the painter employed and arguably revived the gesso technique; deeply inspired by the fresco painting, which is not surprising as Georgia has a centuries old fresco painting tradition. The father of the painter, Guram Abramishvili was an art historian and had expeditions on historical sites such as the Ateni Sioni, where young Merab was busy inspecting and producing the copies of frescos and arguably falling in love with them. Later on Abramishvili got interested and has researched fundamentally the Persian miniature paintings. His art is an astonishing hybrid of the Georgian fresco and Eastern miniature paintings. Scrupulous attention to every detail, the transparent washes lit up by the egg glazing speak of a very demanding and disciplined painter.

Even though the exposition was hastily organised, lacked logic and did not last long enough, it was still breath-taking to see Abramishvili canvases publicly, as not even the best reproductions do justice to the originals. These exquisite paintings that ought to be hung in the museum unfortunately only get exhibited in the private Salons, usually pre-sale. Abramishvili is very popular among the Georgian collectors and recently he has been included in the Sotheby’s sales. First it was sold At the Crossroads exhibition, the Maneater of Kumaon and the Piano has just recently been sold on the Russian Art auction, Sotheby’s.